Country Singer Justin Moore Has His Priorities Straight

Justin Moore earned his eighth number one with "The Ones That Didn’t Make It Back Home” off his fifth studio album, Late Nights and Longnecks.EXPAND
Justin Moore earned his eighth number one with "The Ones That Didn’t Make It Back Home” off his fifth studio album, Late Nights and Longnecks.
Cody Villalobos
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Justin Moore is an accomplished singer and guitarist with more than a handful of country hits under his belt. Just last fall, the lead single, “The Ones That Didn’t Make It Back Home” off his latest album, 2019's Late Nights and Longnecks, peaked the charts, helping him score his eighth career number-one single. But despite the stardom, Moore remains committed to the simpler things in life, like scheduling his tour around his daughters’ basketball and softball games.

“We’re a crazy softball family,” says Moore, who spoke with Westword by phone. “It’s kind of ridiculous, but I structure my year around making sure I’m home to coach my three girls’ softball and basketball teams. Like tonight, we have two basketball games with my five- and eight-year-old daughters. And my oldest, who’s ten, has a two-hour softball pitching lesson.”

Moore and his wife, Kate, are also raising a two-year-old son. “We do our best to embrace the chaos,” he says, with a chuckle. “When I’m home, those nights are jam-packed.”

Obsessed with baseball and basketball, the singer and songwriter says playing sports was all he did as a kid — that and fishing. “Hopefully I haven’t pushed sports onto my kids, but they seem to have been bitten by the same bug as me.”

Raised in Poyen, Arkansas, a town with a population of under 400, Moore grew up idolizing traditional country and Southern-rock artists like George Strait, Dwight Yoakam, Keith Whitley, Lynyrd Skynyrd and Hank Williams Jr. He says their songs about the pillars of life — home, family, tradition — drew him to that music and subsequently informed his own songwriting.

A testimony to that influence is Moore’s relaxed acoustic song “Small Town USA,” which starts off with, “A lot of people called it prison when I was growin' up/These are my roots and this is what I love/Cause everybody knows me and I know them/Wouldn't trade one single day.” His tribute to Poyen, which he co-wrote nearly thirteen years ago, proved to be his breakthrough number-one country-radio hit in 2009.

“I grew up in a town where it was all about baseball on Friday nights, family, solid friends and church. All my buddies couldn’t wait to get out of Dodge. But I’m that one guy that just didn’t want to move away from home,” says Moore. “So at the time I wrote that song, I was a homesick nineteen-year-old kid that was 400 miles from home. I was living in Nashville and seeing photos and emails of all my buddies in college just living it up, while I was working two jobs to make ends meet, writing songs and just trying to do what I could to get a record deal.”

To this day, the 35-year-old crooner still has fans telling him they relate to the lyrics in “Small Town USA.”

“I get it. Turns out that the way I was feeling, many people were thinking and feeling the same way, too," he says. "I think that’s why the song resonated so well with folks. It’s kind of like how it was for me when I was growing up and listening to Tracy Lawrence, who’s on this tour with me and a good friend of mine. I felt like he was singing about me.’”

Moore thinks he’s done a good job with sticking to his guns, writing down-to-earth songs since signing in 2008 with the Valory Music Co., an imprint of the Big Machine Label Group. His previous albums — 2011's Outlaws Like Me, 2013's Off the Beaten Path, and 2016's Kinda Don’t Care — all topped the country album charts consecutively, earning him country-star cred.

“People in country music like to invest in their artists, not only musically, but as a person," he says. "And for me, it’s always been very important to keep waving that flag for classic country.”

On his 2019 offering, Late Nights and Longnecks, a raucous, uptempo, tight album footed in country and Southern rock, the multi-platinum-selling artist decided to head to the beach to write the record, like he used to do when he first started making music.

“When I first moved to Nashville sixteen years ago, my producer, Jeremy Stover, and I would drive down to Destin, Florida, rent a house, lock ourselves up, drink beer and write. That’s where a lot of the songs off my first two albums came from. So when it came time to do this project, it made sense to do it retreat-style. I called some of my favorite Nashville collaborators to come to Destin, hole up and write songs with me.”

With the beach located 150 yards from the house and a daily dose of blue skies, warm breeze, sunsets and drinks, the crew’s creative flow was loose and raw, allowing for song ideas to take shape naturally, with some songs written in under an hour.

The resulting ten tracks on Late Nights and Longnecks have plenty of spirited tales of small-town joy and family pride. There are heady cuts like “That’s My Boy,” which explores the bond between a father and son; “Small Town Street Cred,” a song that commemorates the simple pleasures of rural living; and sentimental tunes like “The Ones That Didn’t Make It Back Home,” which honors the soldiers, nurses, first responders and teachers who work to make the world a better place.

Drinking songs also permeate the record. “You know, country music: Beer and whiskey have long been embedded in country music, whether it’s out of fun or out of sadness,” says Moore.

The album opener, “Why We Drink,” has Moore rattling off a list of reasons to pop open a cold brew: “’Cause the sun’s up/’Cause it’s sundown/’Cause my wound up needs a little unwound/’Cause we’ve been working all day.” Although alcohol weaves in and out of the track list, it’s not all light talk. He makes reference to it sometimes as a medication in the cut “Never Gonna Drink Again” and at times as a memory better left in the past, as on the tongue-and-cheek “Jesus and Jack Daniels.”

“I’m not a ‘make an appointment and come in at 10 a.m.’ kind of guy,” says Moore. “My songwriting process is when a song hits, you write it. And with the music we got, I think that if we had done our writing sessions on a bus, a plane, or made some songwriting appointments, we would have missed out on some of the gems on this album.”

Justin Moore, Tracy Lawrence and Lainey Wilson play at 7 p.m. Friday, March 6, at the Mission Ballroom, 4242 Wynkoop Street. Tickets start at $49.95 and are available at the Mission Ballroom website.

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